Being authentic in sales

Too many sales people (in particular those new to sales) feel they need to pretend to be someone else or be something they are not.


Sue Barrett

The 20th century approach of one-upmanship, although still encouraged by many traditional sales managers, seems to be slowly retreating into the shadows of the past as crude and old-fashioned. Polar opposite to the latter, but just as unproductive, are the approaches of:


  • A whining puppy (pleading for a sale trying to make customers feel sorry for you).
  • A chameleon (always bending and twisting yourself to fit any situation, often losing yourself in the process).
  • A parrot (not adapting your approach enough to suit the style if the client).


These approaches often annoy customers and elicit pity rather than trust.


Too many sales people (in particular those new to sales) feel they need to pretend to be someone else or be something they are not. We find many sales people still stick to a “one size fits all” repertoire and find it difficult to adapt their style to different client situations and styles, often finding themselves hiding behind the veneer of brand or concepts (think “walking talking brochure”).


Or worse, others twist themselves into all sorts of shapes just to please the client. The biggest trap I see many sales people falling into is the trap of trying to be liked – at any cost. They end up doing anything to be liked including giving away product or margins which costs them and the business money. Clients (consciously or not) can see through the pretense and never feel quite able to trust you because the “real” you did not show up or stand up for who you are and what you represent.


These aspects featured in my research project Sell Like a Woman. Here is what some of the women had to say:

  • “As a sales person you learn to reflect each of your clients, but at one stage in my sales career I felt as if I was loosing my identity, from constantly twisting myself out of shape to fit other people’s ideals. I then started to bring more of me into my interactions with clients, rather than changing myself to suit them. I have found that clients respond well to the more genuine me and I now feel more sure of who I am in the situation and therefore more capable of establishing boundaries and orchestrating the transaction.”


  • “I struggle to work with people who I clash with either ethically and from a values perspective. I realised this a long time ago and do not enter into these types of relationships personally or professionally.”


  • “{Effective sales people] posses a good deal of honesty and approach me like an intelligent person. Those sales people who ‘talk down’ or treat me like a ‘woman’ (e.g. buying a new car) rarely get a sale. Even if I know which car I want to buy, I may go back to the dealership but ask for a new salesperson.”


Our sales research is showing that you need a variety of repertoires you can use with different clients – that is, be more professional and business like with some; more friendly and relaxed with others or more quiet and reserved with yet other, however it is evident that clients still want to deal with the real you. Knowing how to modulate and adapt your approach is vital in any sales situation but knowing how to still remain as “you” is equally as important.


One way I have found very useful in ensuring I am operating authentically for my client and myself is using the skill of verifying. It is very useful when trying to understand another person’s situation or point of view. Verifying your customer’s needs requires the combination of three key communication skills; listening, paraphrasing and clarifying.


Verifying can be a useful technique to ensure the message has been received and understood by both the sender and receiver. Verifying involves paraphrasing or summing up in your own words what you think the person has communicated.


People with good verifying skills:


  • Paraphrase (sum up or rephrase) what is being said.
  • Use questions – to sum up or clarify.
  • Empathise with the other person.
  • Encourage the speaker to continue – nod, murmur brief words of encouragement.
  • Concentrate on what is being said.
  • Really take in what is being said, not making judgements as they speak; pay attention with their whole manner – body, eyes, facial expression.


We all need to have skills and boundaries to guide us in our endeavours and preserve our integrity and the integrity of others. Verifying is one very useful skill to have in your repertoire.


NOTE: Recognise that you will not get along with everyone you come across. There will be times when you (unintentionally) elicit unpleasant feelings in others. Not because of what you said or did, just because you may remind him or her of someone they knew whom they did not have a good experience with for instance.

Don’t take it personally. It can happen to us all, however, if you try to twist yourself into a shape that doesn’t suit you then just to please them or get them to like you then you both suffer. Remember to remain true to yourself and be respectful of yourself and others. There are plenty more fish in the sea.



Sue Barrett is Managing Director of BARRETT Pty Ltd. Sue is an experienced consultant and trained coach and facilitator. Sue and her team are best known for their work in creating High Performing Sales Teams. Key to their success is working with the whole person and integrating emotional intelligence, skill, knowledge, behaviour, process and strategy via effective training and coaching programs. For more information please go to


For more Sell Like  a Woman blogs, click here.



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